Prairie Skinks (Plestiodon septentrionalis) have been making our yard their home for many years. I often see then near a block retaining wall next to our patio. I suspect they like the many nooks and crannies the retaining wall blocks offer them.
Lizzie has been vaguely aware of them because she notices them moving through the yard but until recently hadn’t had opportunity to investigate them. The other day, a skink hung out on the retaining wall long enough for us to take photos of it and for Lizzie to sniff it.
She was curious but with gentle encouragement we taught her to leave it alone. She eventually lost interest, probably because it wasn’t furry and didn’t squeak like a rodent.
Unbeknownst to us, a mallard pair (Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) built a nest in our yard and laid eggs in it. We discovered it by chance when Lizzie accidentally scared up the hen while playing in the yard. On the second occasion of that, when I investigated, I found a nest with six eggs in it.
I placed recently dropped tree branches around the nest to dissuade Lizzie from wandering over to the nest. Lizzie has no interest in birds so I was not concerned she would pester the nest but I wanted to keep her away from the nest so as to reduce stress on the hen.
Unfortunately, two week later, the eggs were destroyed. I suspect raccoons (Procyon lotor) found the nest and ate the eggs.
There is an interesting phenomenon where someone installs a security camera for the first time. A week later, they are alarmed to discover that people are walking through their yard at night and at 1 am every morning a cat sits on the back steps of their house. They post videos to the Nextdoor and Neighbors apps, inquiring about the errant trespassers. Unbeknownst to them, people have been walking through their yard for years because it is a convenient route to get from the basketball court in the city park to the nearest bus stop. And the cat, well, it lives three doors down at the Hendersons and visits every house in the neighborhood.
Most people are unaware of what is going on around them at night because they have their windows closed tight and are night-blinded and night-deafened by their TVs, laptops, or phones. Twenty or so years ago, after our house was burgled for the first time, I approached our neighbors, who we were already on good terms with, about the event. I learned from them that a lot goes on at night when we are sleeping or when we are away from our homes. I learned it was worthwhile for me to keep in contact with them and to pay attention to the comings and goings of people, particularly when we were asleep or away at work or on a trip.
I have several cameras located around our property. I use them because I am curious about what goes on when I am not present to observe. Below are a few videos from those cameras. None involve criminal activity, thankfully, and, instead, feature various animals and bugs.
A raccoon (Procyon lotor) using a tree to climb down from our fence. I’m always impressed with the climbing ability of raccoons.
A centipede (Chilopoda) crawling on the wall next to a camera in our garage.
A spider traversing its web.
A mouse exploring in the garage. This mouse could be the non-native house mouse (Mus musculus), native western harvest mouse (Reithrodontomys megalotis), or even a native eastern deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus). While I think mice are cute, I’m not sufficiently interested to positively identify them. Besides, by the time I can examine them, Lizzie has mangled them.
During the drought this year, to assist the various animals that make our yard their home, I placed a bird bath at the bottom of our hill, in the wooded part of the yard. To learn what animals were using the bird bath, I placed a trail cam on a nearby tree to record the activity at the bird bath. Below are some of images recorded by the trail cam.
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
Robins were frequent visitors to the bird bath. Sometimes, families of 3-4 robins would take turns bathing in the bird bath.
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)
Prior to seeing the following image, I had not seen a Blue Jay bathe in a bird bath despite having multiple bird baths for years.
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
American goldfinch (Spinus tristis)
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
After I saw the following picture, I knew why I occasionally found partially consumed animal carcasses in the bird bath. Crows were using it to clean their food.
Hairy Woodpecker (Leuconotopicus villosus)
A Hairy Woodpecker would frequently visit nearby trees but never visited the bird bath.
Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)
One apparently tired Gray Squirrel rested on the bird bath.
American Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)
The bird bath even had visitors at night. The camera recorded several images of mice visiting the bird bath at night.
Raccoon (Procyon lotor)
A pair of raccoons were recorded walking past the bird bath but they apparently had no interest in it.
White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are a common sight in our urban neighborhood. Capturing a good image of them is, however, not an easy task. The following images are from several cameras we have in our yard.
On Thursday, I was working from home when I heard a low growl. Checking on Lizzie, I saw she was growling at a gobble of wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) ambling through our front yard. She has seen turkeys previously but always at a distance, never this close.
The turkeys appeared to be eating acorns that had dropped from the oak trees. We have had single turkeys visit our yard but never this many at once.
Lizzie, being a typical dog, likes to chase squirrels. While I let her chase them because she enjoys it so much, I put Lizzie at the disadvantage by warning the squirrels, usually by making extra noise when I open the door. I enjoy watching her chase the squirrels but I don’t want her to actually catch them. Truth be told, I like squirrels, particularly the Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). I enjoy watching them and they are, for the most part, harmless.
This winter I noticed a dearth of gray squirrels in our yard. We normally have 3-4 gray squirrels and an occasional American red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus). I have seenRed fox (Vulpes vulpes) come through our yard so I suspect they have reduced the squirrel population. The situation became so bad that entire weeks would go by without me seeing any squirrels in our yard. Deciding that I had to do something to help the squirrels (and keep Lizzie entertained), I began placing food out for them. I put the food in locations that they could easily access without putting them in undue danger of predators.
Today, Lizzie and I looked out a window to see a gray squirrel eating peanuts on a Tiki statue in our backyard. Despite her penchant for chasing them, she quietly watched it eat. Perhaps she too understood that she can’t chase squirrels if there are no squirrels to chase and, therefore, let it have a meal.
This is the second year in which I recorded the first observations of the year. The following are a few of our observations:
On Sunday, March 1, 2020, I saw a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis) investigating a nest box I had filled with pine shavings the day before. The next day, I could see they were preparing it by removing shavings. Nuthatches are cavity nesters. They will often stash shavings and chips they remove from a cavity in the bark of the tree they are working in. I saw a lot of shavings stashed into crevices in the bark of the tree the nest box is attached to.
Kat noticed buds on the maples and oaks on Monday, March 2, 2020. One of our neighbor’s trees has large buds on it. I don’t recall seeing that large before.
It appears that as of Saturday, March 7, it is still mating season for the Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) mating season. I saw a squirrel being chased by another in a manner suggestive of one being a female in heat and the other an interested male.
I saw and heard the first American Robin (Turdus migratorius) of the season on Tuesday, March 10. It was perched in a fruit tree adjacent to our patio.
While walking with Lizzie on Friday, March 13, we heard Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) singing near the pond on the north side of the street.
A Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) has been a regular night time visitor. Other than a stray cat, it is the most frequent visitor to our night time yard.
From the images captured on the game cameras, it appears the opossum is searching for food under the shrubs in the back yard. It has been going there nearly every night for the last several weeks. Maybe it is finding grubs and worms. When I’ve looked in that area I haven’t found much of anything else.
I hope it keeps a low profile during the day because I don’t want Lizzie finding it. Two years ago, Lizzie found an opossum in our yard. When she attacked it, it played ‘possum, looking for all intents and purposes to be dead, releasing a foul-smelling liquid in the process. Lizzie, being a dog, promptly rolled in it.
Because the door to our house was wide open, I was concerned Lizzie would enter the house, fouling it with the her new “perfume”. I let her mess with the “dead” opossum while I stealthily made my way back to the open door. As soon as I closed it to prevent her ingress, I called her to me, ran to the exterior water faucet, turned it on wide open, and grabbed the attached hose. Grabbing her by the collar as soon as she got within reach, I hosed her down. Lizzie, disliking baths, tried to escape but I kept a firm grip on her until I had thoroughly rinsed her. To this day, she watches me warily any time I use the hose.